Kat Heatherington retreat Uncategorized

Kat: 2013 Annual Retreat

This is maybe a bit non-linear, and i apologize if that impacts its readability. I’ll do my best.

Each year, Sunflower River takes a long weekend retreat to connect with each other, evaluate our current situation and our long-term goals, and plan our next year. For a variety of reasons, last year’s retreat was really rough for everybody, and we all went into this year’s with a certain amount of trepidation. But we also all showed up with the will to hear each other, ensure that we were all heard, and to repair the rifts. Every one of us stepped up and did their best, and it really showed. By the first night, we were all a lot calmer and clearer, and by the last day, we had accomplished a very great deal, on personal, organizational, and planning levels. It was magical, in the particular way that committment, integrity, love and intensity of purpose combined can be.

This is what our Retreats look like, pretty much for four days.

Rev is on track to become a Sunflower River Steward. So we re-visited this conversation:

What Makes a Steward?
–decision-making authority supported by the group
–personal projects & visions supported by the group, & as they impact SR, funded & assisted
–our responsibility to take care of the place and each other; we take ownership of the responsibility (as well as of the land and our actions)
–we cannot pass the buck.
–willingness to step up to all this
–focus on action & creation
–philosophical alignment/ acceptance by the group
–intensity of purpose
–1+ year on the land before attending a Retreat
–attending/participating in a Retreat
–accept increased responsibility and do well with it; make decisions that are aligned with the group
–committment (ongoing: we are not walking away from this)
–we don’t account for each other’s time
–we pay what we can, and put in as much time as we can


In sorting out what exactly it is that we are doing and why we are doing it, we developed the following pyramid, derived loosely from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

SR’s hierarchy of needs:

   T                             family support
   r                              Stewardship
   v                     Project Process (how we perform 
   e                              what we do)

                  Decision Making (how we arrive at what we do)

    S                         Operational Control
    u                            (what we do)
    v                          Resource Control
    v                      Critical Infrastructure
    e           (water, food, electricity, money, communication)

Why are we here?
-group-decision making and problem solving
-retirement security
-participation in a coherent culture that is not a monoculture
-spiritual connection
-resource sharing
-home base
-something larger than oneself
-opportunity to be stretched & challenged
-surviving/thriving in a changing world
-moral & tangible support for manifesting personal goals


new projects: barnyard grows north; expanded animal housing. new workshop 20′ square under north elms. Alan’s experimental greenhouse, southeast garden corner. MZ field is 70’x170′; community building as an “addition” to MZ, in field, south-facing.

Gawain’s first acro.

Social Contract: we have to feel safe enough to say things are broken, without it being blame-oriented, so that we can talk it out and fix it, without brokenness-reporting being a primary goal, but a tool we actually have access to — “no fault fail”

Project Control System
–functionality to handle increased complexity on an increased number of projects
–everyone’s needs getting met in project implementation
–efficiency of time & decision-making
–high quality outcomes
–consistent, obvious process
–iteration — feedback — sign-off — project completion — retrospective/evaluation

Project Control
1. Temperature Check
2. Background/Context (R&D)
3. Initial Proposal/ Problem Statement
4. Needs Assessment (and modifications as needed to accomodate needs; lather/rinse/repeat)
5. Formal Proposal
6. Stewards all sign off. Project cannot substantively change without bumping back to needs/proposal stage.
7. Do the work. Update everybody as it goes. Hydras are possible here, and they send the project back to Needs/Proposal.
8. Evaluation/Retrospective

formal proposal includes: budget, design, roles, resources, timeline, evalution of risk, operational impact.
sign off must be all Stewards together in person. sign-off expires (needs-re-upping) in six months. sign-off can’t be retracted (no “just not feeling it today” style regrets after that point).


we then spent an entire day sorting out the new floorplan for the now-mostly-gutted Mahazda house (MZ). it’s fantastic. we are collectively so much more brilliant than any of us could be individually. we’re going to make the oldest part of the house, the central big adobe room, into the common room. this is also the largest open space in the house, and making it the community space honors the spirit of the dwelling.

details: if we can put a clerestory roof & windows over the kitchen, we will; we’ll price that out. we want to do a strawbale wrap for insulation. heat is an open question — as passive as possible, but then what? wood floors. light colors, like white oak or similar. sun tunnels in the roof of the kitchen and common room. bay windows in the breakfast nook, office, Jenny’s room, and common room. we can start seeds in them. enlarge the common room window. french doors into the kitchen (where the garage door presently is). all doors in the hallway open away from the hall.

Usages: Jenny & Gawain move into MZ; G gets his own room. Tristan moves into Jenny’s current room. Cottage livingroom becomes the Library; cottage south bedroom becomes the Craft Room. MZ also holds an office, a large common room, a generous kitchen (at last!), with a breakfast nook, a utility/mud room area at the back door, and two bathrooms, at the front & back of the house. (i’ll try to post an image of the new floor plan. we moved EVERYTHING. the garage is the kitchen, the “back bedroom” is the breakfast nook, the whole adobe center remains open for common space, the kitchen is G’s room, the livingroom divides into office and J’s room. Bryan wins and we do put a bathroom where the pantry was [he initially said we would], and the back bathroom is at the far back of what is presently the garage but will be the kitchen.)

House Meeting

House Meeting has been variously broken for a while now. we identified three needs it fulfills: planning, emotional support, and social time together. we blew it once through overplanning (we drowned in our agenda) and once by failing to be capable of providing emotional support for each other. we are addressing that. new house meeting strategy: dedicated planning meeting the first week of every month. other meetings will be social, and we’ll do something together (even if that is to just chill, or do any kind of activity one can do on a wednesday evening), and who is in charge of organizing the activity (or picking up the beer, you know) will rotate, alphabetically, amongst us all. this should take a lot of pressure off, stretch us in interesting ways socially, and provide some real fun. as well as providing a dedicated planning space. we’ll re-evalute this system in 3 months to see if it’s working, or if we need to tweak it, or if we need to pitch it and try something else new.

Electrical Infrastructure

sooner or later, we need to make the Cottage be 200 amp instead of 100. unfortunately, this will require re-wiring some or all of the cottage, and the pump house. the barn is probably okay given that we are going to build a workshop, so the tools will move. eventually. things that will probably stay on conventional grid for a while: cottage, MZ, barn, hottub, workshop. Things that could go solar incrementally, much sooner: potting shed, greenhouse, AP system, yurts, barnyard (coop lights), hexayurts (proposed wwoofer housing we plan to build in the green belt this summer), abbatoir area. we’d like to create a series of small independent systems with interchangeable parts, so that it will scale up, and integrate.

Here’s Gawain cleaning up after us:

every retreat needs cute animal pictures.

and it’s awfully nice to come home to this:

retreat retrospective Uncategorized

Not All Retreats Are Created Equal

Each year the Stewards of Sunflower River take a few days away from the farm and ‘retreat’ to a bed and breakfast to reconnect with each others vision for our community.   This year we headed to Fite Ranch in San Antonio, NM. Jenny and I had visited last year and thought it was a good fit (even if it does not have hot tubs or pools to get warm).

If you have ever had the chance to spend time with us during a bi-weekly project house meeting you know that the four Stewards know how to hit the ground running. It is no different for retreats. Within 30 minutes of our arrival we had already transformed the Evelyn Fite Room into our own meeting space complete with massive sticky notes and blank index cards.

This is our fourth retreat and our process gets refined each year. In fact part of the point of the retreat is to improve any area of how we work together, as well as put that into action over the next year. We draw our meeting process from a combination of basic corporate meeting strategies, formal consensus processes, software development productivity tools, and good old common sense. We start the meeting by reading and reviewing our vision statement

Sunflower River is joyfully creating a sanctuary wherein we embody and promote sustainability, spirituality, adaptability & safety within our selves, community, our land and Gaia.

This vision statement continues to be our focus and relavent to each of us as much as it was when we created it five years ago. It does not always encompass every aspect of where we are right in this moment. What it does do is act as a key to all the various items we are working towards at any one moment. It also focuses us back at what we came together to create. I am personally impressed at how well it still represents us as a whole.

The next segment of our retreat is getting our ground rules and agenda sorted out for the remainder of the weekend. The ground rules help us stay present and let us all remember we are human beings who need to be reminded to play nice from time to time. The agenda has settled into a similar flow from year to year. Starting with us using from level thinking about ourselves in relation to the farm in the past year to where we see ourselves in the future. This serves us in two ways. First it allows us to see where each of us is with relation to the farm and our future self. Second it becomes a spring board into generating the remainder of the topics we will cover for the retreat.

To actually manage all the different types of topics we need to cover during the retreat we use an emergent system to help us create the remainder of our agenda. We spend time simply brainstorming topics that we individually want to cover. Our topics come from a built up list of items left over from house meetings, personal agendas, high level view notes. We also do a process called the land walk. During this process we imagine ourselves walking the land and reviewing what we want to talk about in relation to the land. Another process I would like to use is walking through time over the next five years and seeing the land change. Whatever the process we end up with stacks of topics to cover over the remainder of the retreat.

This year we broke up our topics into four categories: intangibles, events, cycles, and projects. We then handled all the topics in one category at a time. Of course themes emerge and multiple topic cards can be handled in a single conversation. New topics are sometimes generated as we progress but that slows down over time and we eventually catch up with ourselves


This year we began refining the process by which we track and think about projects. Alan and I both come from software development backgrounds and are familiar with project management concept called Agile Software Development. One way of manifesting Agile is the Scrum process. Alan started applying this process to some of the topics at our house meeting over the last year. From that experience, over the weekend we came to a collective idea of how to use the key elements from Scrum. The basics are that we are maintaining a master list of projects we will work on at some point this year (called the project backlog) or next (someday/maybe backlog). We have two weeks between project house meetings which then become our sprint. During a sprint we choose projects we each will be working on from the project backlog and move that project closer to finish in some tangible way. Then at the next project house meeting we review the last sprint and select out projects for the next sprint. Wash-rinse-repeat.

I would like to say that we had a nice organized discussion and came to this process smoothly. The reality is that it took at least four different discussions, some check out time, two bottles of mead, and some trusting in the process to make this go. I don’t want you dear readers to think everything is fine and dandy all the time in Sunflower River land. No we witches have our warts too. In the end though we do have a new process. We will work with this process for a while, see where it takes us. A few years ago we started with our first major process overhaul by saying something like ‘could we put our tasks on the refrigerator door’. That system has turned into a major way we work with ourselves and our interns. It too has had some bumps in the road.

Projects however are not the only thing we do, or the only way to categorize our life. Time has its place as well. So before we leave the retreat we schedule the coming year with those cycles and events that happen on a regular basis, as well as whatever special tasks we can reasonably plan. This leaves most of us with a very full calendar for the year. So if you would like to schedule some time with one of us please do. I seem to have some free time in April.

We had one major change this year to our retreat and that was the addition of Gawain to our meetings. There are good reasons to not bring an six month old child to a planning retreat. We found out most of them at some point. We had added a day to our schedule to accommodate and by and by that helped us get finished on time. But screaming babies, even when they are your own, can be distracting and stressful. Neither Kat nor Alan have had to spend that much time with Gawain so they got all the extra stress. As a process improvement we will likely ask a friend to be a weekend nanny for next years retreat.


All in all it was as productive if more so a retreat than we have had. Maybe that is why we came back exhausted, yet still ready to go. Already emails are flying and small items have been accomplished.

Next year I think our big process improvement will be playing more and relaxing more as we plan to transform our land and our selves yet again.